Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Sun Shines Bright

I believe in providence.  So I'm not sure how the miraculous reduction of knee pain plays into my Matrix-reality experience.  And I'm not sure how my day of being Superman plays into the previous epoch of my life as a depressed Clark Kent.

And it's only a little depressing to me that my high energy day on resulted in minimal gains, but not so much as to burgle my thunder completely.  I'm stoked about my ride and I want to tell you all about it.  But first let me set the stage a little.

I’ve been coasting along in a haze.  I’ve been riding from time to time, but never feeling strong like I did last year at this time.  I theorized that the base miles I had built up while in Colorado have finally “worn off.”  My poor showing at the Mohican 100 last year, and my disappointing 12:24 finish at Leadville really cut my legs out from under me.  Most of my cycling enthusiasm since Leadville has been forced.
Last Thursday I rode at Veterans and felt really good.  And then a spoke pinged.  Yesterday’s post delves into the mental bleakery I experienced beginning somewhere around that point in the chronology.  Honestly, part of the reason I didn’t do my Friday field work by bike was apathy.  I drove all over the place and hardly even walked to verify what I needed to verify.
Deep in the wilds of Larryburg
But Saturday was preconceived to be a ride day for me.  I ignored the weather forecast and determined to ride regardless of what the sky could throw at me.  Oddly, I was excited to ride. 
Jeff was sickly.  He sounded like an emphysemic trucker momma on the phone.  By 9 am Saturday morning I was settled on a solo ride of undetermined route.  I’d been tossing around the idea of doing the Outer Gorge Loop, an 80 mile ride through a rural crenellated topography, but had not decided one way or the other.
It took me another hour to get the bike ready and to get dressed and fueled up.  I started out with pancakes (including a magic bike pancake!), two eggs, OJ, and coffee.  I took with me a Clif Block, two Larabars, and a bag of cranberries and seeds trail mix along with one bottle of water and one bottle of Skratch mix.
Happy Bike Month!
At 10am on the nose I opened the portal to the Bike Cave and was faced with curtains of cold rain.  I grinned.  And I pushed the bike into the rain and pulled the door closed behind me.
I was on the Dogrunner with a rain jacket in a handlebar bag on the front.  The temperature was around 70F when I left and was supposed to peak in the 70s.  The brisk rain and moderately warm temperature was actually an optimal combination for me.  My engine runs hot.
I didn’t set out to break any records.   I had no Strava segments in mind to conquer.  I had no times in mind to best.  I was riding alone so I didn’t have to keep up with or slow down for anyone.  It should have been just a pleasant ride through continuous rain.
Friday evening I went out for a trail run in the rain.  I drove up to the Martin’s Fork trailhead on the far side of Nada Tunnel and ran up to the Grays Arch Trail and looped back down the D. Boon Hut Trail and returned via Martin’s Fork.  It was a 3.3 mile run after most of the rain had subsided for the evening.  I saw a stand of pink ladyslippers along the trail, as well as literally tons of other wildflowers, and I had a fantastic run.
Cellphone capture in the rain
The rain has historically never been a deterrent for me to venture outside.  You see, the human body is mostly water and water is not poisonous or corrosive to skin.
On my trail run I remembered (and when I say remembered I mean intentionally meditated upon) that I kinda revel in adverse recreational conditions.  I’ve never been one to discard an opportunity to paddle, hike, rock climb, bike, or run because it was too cold, too wet, too icy, or too hot.  I enjoy suffering.
I turned up KY 77 toward Nada Tunnel.  It’s a long gradual uphill that I’ve never really gone all out on.  I’m usually saving energy for Sky Bridge Hill or whatever huge big ticket mileage I’ve schemed up for the day.  But not on Saturday.  I had been cranking along at a steady cadence slicing through the rain and the standing puddles on the road as I got further from home with little notion of where I wanted to go.
I was moving up toward the tunnel with incredible power.  I realized my knees didn’t hurt as usual.  My legs felt like pistons.  I glanced down as the grade kicked up and watched as I held my speed at 13mph.  My breathing never faltered.  My legs continued to churn at the pedals with seemingly bottomless stores of energy.  I noticed the time on the computer: 52:00. 
The first benchmark on my Red River Gorge time trial sprints is the KY 77 and KY 715 split just past the Iron Bridge.  My first attempt at a sub-three hour Gorge Loop ride from home put me at that point at an hour out.  My previous attempt in which I had all kinds of Strava segment PRs but missed my better time by two minutes I was six minutes down when I reached the split. 
As I approached the tunnel on Saturday I knew I had eight minutes to make the split if I had even the remotest chance of breaking my previous record of 3:12.  There was no question of breaking three hours.  I’d piddle around (so I thought) on the ride out from town and had actually stopped twice, once to adjust my handlebar bag and once to take a photo, and thought there was no way I would make up enough time to chase down the elusive 3:00 time.
I had to stop
When I reached the split I was two minutes down.  I headed into the inner Gorge and opted for going for my record instead of a leisurely 80 mile ride.
As I cruised eastward toward Sky Bridge Hill I still felt strong and was keeping my speed around 20 mph over the rolling terrain of the riverside road.  I ate on the hour and stayed on my cadence the whole time.
At the Concrete Bridge I was up by six minutes…over my faster time!  I’d actually gained eight minutes on my previous ride over a seven mile stretch of road.  Just before starting up Sky Bridge Hill to climb out of the Gorge and up onto Sky Bridge Ridge I heard angry thunder.  The rain had started up again as I crossed the Sheltowee Trace.  It had slacked as I reached the base of the crux climb of the ride, but I worried—if only briefly—about being up on the ridge with the threat of lightning.
I decided quickly that the ridge is still fairly protected out to Pine Ridge, and if it was bad when I reached Sky Bridge Station I’d bail on the time trial and take shelter there.  I raced on as if I expected to need to take shelter, but really I was focused on breaking that record.
I didn’t push too hard climbing SBH.  I had enough trouble keeping my rear wheel from breaking traction on the wet pavement as I crawled up the steep road.  Sky Bridge Hill went.  It was nothing to write home about.
Then I was pounding out toward Pine Ridge.  The lightning never really came back, and I pedaled on and on and on.  My third benchmark was to reach Pine Ridge by two hours into the ride.  On my last two rides I didn’t manage to break two hours there leaving me an hour to cover 22 miles.  That’s a long hour.  And on both of my past two serious attempts I fought headwinds and fatigue all the way home.
Saturday I reached Pine Ridge ten minutes up.  As I carved through the water past Sky Bridge Station my cyclo-computer read: 1:50.  I had an hour and ten minutes to cover 22 miles.  And despite the crazy weather of the day there didn’t seem to be a strong headwind coming from anywhere.
My spirits soared, but I was still a long way from home.
As I cranked on from Pine Ridge toward Slade I marveled at how strong I felt and how little resistance I had encountered.  My knees weren’t singing their usual chorus of squeaky, off-harmony pain.  I wasn’t cramping.  It was as if I had somehow miraculously lost 10 pounds since I’d stepped off the scale earlier that morning.  I felt like a racer.  I felt fast.
I had to take it slow down Slade Hill.  Or did I? I felt conservative descending the sinuous road on wet pavement.  But according to Strava I claimed another PR there on Saturday.  I tore the paint off of everything at Slade as I rocketed through.  I kept forcing my pedals around and around.
A half mile past Slade I saw my car coming at me.  The horn honked joyfully.  My SAG mama had come to my rescue!  The weather must have been truly wretched at home.  I kept on toward my goal.  Nothing was assured at that point.  I was going to be cutting it close.
At the long straight stretch at Middle Fork FD Mandy eased up beside me and rolled down the passenger side window.  I was steady at my 22 mph cruising speed.
“It was really bad at home!” she called over the rain.
I nodded and called back: “I think I can break three hours!”
“Then go!” she called and pulled away.
I hunched over my bars and chased that Share the Road plate into the mist.  I still felt strong. 
On towards Stanton the miles kept falling away.  I recalculated the speed I needed to maintain as the miles dropped off and the clock hands spun.  That needed average speed kept falling lower and lower the closer I got home.  Unusual, as most of the time that average speed goes up and up until it hits a certain point—a threshold that I cannot reign in—and I give up.  As I came hot and heady into Stanton proper my cyclo-puter displayed an absolutely unbelievable 2:43.  I had less than five miles to go.  My best fuzzy mental math told me I needed to keep up about a 17 mph pace all the way home.  A glance down told me I was still hanging onto a truly unbelievable (for me) steady speed of 20+ mph.
I had to make some decisions.  If I continued straight through town I wouldn’t have to climb over Steamshovel Hill, but that route was slightly longer and I’d risk getting caught at the traffic light.  If I cut over and crossed at the bank I’d have to ride Steamshovel which could seriously ding my speed.  As strong as I felt even at that point I knew I wouldn’t glide over that short little wall.  I chose Steamshovel.  It was shorter and I could make up a lot of time lost on the long backside descent.
On that bomb run I chased a car.  And watched in horror as he slowed to a stop in front of a house at the bottom of the hill, parked in the road, and flung his door open into my path.  A portly moto-enthusiast extricated himself from his car and I just knew he was going to step into my path and take up 100% of the road in front of me.  I was maxing out at 35 mph as this all unfolded. 
The man didn’t step into my path, but I ended up with about five feet of real estate in which to maneuver at nearly 40 miles an hour.
When I turned onto my road with less than a mile to go I had been out on my bike for 2:54.  Never was there a better time to hammer on the pedals.  With no significant obstacles left to slow me down I gave a full final effort.  I reached my driveway at 2:58.  Record broken.
That ride seemed to have shattered a downward cycle I’d been in for quite a long time.  Or maybe it was the ride in combination with many other things. 
Friday was relaxing for me.  I did my field work, returned home, and spent the evening watching mindless action movies while my wife had a few ladies over to the house.  Saturday I left the house with no pressure to ride or any specific agenda.  I rode what felt good to ride.
I’d gotten an email on Friday from a former co-worker letting me know an environmental justice study we’d worked on has won an award from the state chapter of the professional organization I belong to.  And between Thursday and Friday I finally seemed to be getting my nose above the surface at work and things seemed to be coming together carrying my confidence along on a deluge of positive energy.
The ride…or maybe I should start referring to it as The Ride…was the culmination of a lot of busy time for Chris.  On Saturday I truly felt stronger on the bike than I have since before Leadville.  Maybe it was because the rain knocked the pollen out of the air.  Maybe I ate the right thing (magic bike pancake!), or maybe all of my efforts of late have finally started to build up my confidence enough that my spiritual malaise has eased.
There was a lot more to the weekend that was positive and upbeat.  The rain did little to dampen my mood, and it did a lot to help our garden.  This week looks to be pretty busy too, but I feel like I have the energy to face it.
Oh, Jeff offered to true my wheel after replacing the broken spoke.  So we went and visited the Mozhican clan on Saturday evening and I got to recount the entire ride as the broken spoke was laid to rest.  I’m finally fired up about the Mohican 100k.  We debated the merits of 3x9 versus 1x9 and on our respective plan of attack, the impending Proofer epic that will undoubtedly dominate the scene, and just our general excitement for the upcoming mountain bike race.
Spinny wheel courtesy of the Furnace Mountain Wooden Bike Company
The uncertainty of the adventure of the Mohican is part of what draws me to it I think.  I might fail miserably.  Nothing is assured.  But if I get out there and feel like I’m killing it then I’ll have found another one of those brief moments in life that feel perfect, and right, and that speak to my soul like little else.


  1. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!! I am so happy for you to have found some peace. The ride sounds like it was awesome. I hope you have many more moments just like this.

    1. Thanks Daniel! I used to have a lot more like this. I've gotten bogged down in the mire for a few months, but hopefully all this sunlight is rearranging my brain chemistry.